Tag Archives: key skills

Three Imperatives Of Every Successful Category Manager

Every leadership role in every business comes with its own set of imperatives, a set of tasks that must be focussed on to guarantee success. But what imperative should a great category manager follow?This article was written by  Lynn Rideout – Director Procurement Services, Denali – A WNS Company.

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Fred Wilson once described the three tasks that every CEO should focus on, whilst all other tasks should be delegated to their team.

These three things, the CEO imperatives, must include:

  • Setting the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicating it to all stakeholders
  • Recruiting, hiring and retaining the very best talent for the company
  • Ensuring there is always enough cash in the bank

If your CEO can’t excel at all three, the chances are you’ve got some fairly big problems within your organisation.

What if we were to take the concept of the three imperatives, and apply it to category management?

What should you do well to be successful?

What are your imperatives?

And, furthermore, how do you take the basic understanding of category management and enable it across your organisation?

At Denali, we believe the greatest category managers follow these three imperatives.

1. Know Your Stakeholders

First and foremost, successful category managers understand the importance of stakeholder alignment and building positive relationships. Follow these tips to enhance your stakeholder relationships through your category plan:

  • Be with your stakeholders – Spend time (both real and mental) with them every day
  • Intimately know their business objectives – use a consistent framework to correctly identify true requirements, the key enablers, and barriers to those objectives; where value is created?
  • Establish true alignment – establish shared goals and earn trusted advisor relationship
  • Sell YOUR vision – “if not now, then when?”, be aligned and integrated with stakeholders
  • Bring new opportunities to the table vs. react to requests or issues
  • Plant seeds with stakeholders – start one project at a time; build reputation and trust

Remember, to effectively persuade and engage your stakeholders, you must tailor the content for each discussion. Tell your story and help build the business case. Building successful relationships is an evolution. Your stakeholder relationships will grow with time – and so will your credibility with stakeholders!

2. Understand Your Categories

Understanding the internal and external dynamics of your categories drives idea generation and stakeholder engagement. Follow these tips to better understand your categories:

  • Get dirty with the data – become intimate with your category details, but get to true insights – the “so what’s”
  • Be curious – ask why, seek innovation, and develop new strategies
  • Be intentional regardless of the depth and category maturity
  • Be “in the market” – study market drivers/trends, talk to suppliers, participate in market events, read broadly
  • Network with category peers in other industries/organisations
  • Understand your suppliers – capabilities, performance, why you use them, and leverage them

Establish a plan to refresh and maintain category knowledge as part of building your story. Knowledge will grow with time, but it should not delay execution.

3. Deliver Results

Now that you know your stakeholders and understand your categories – it’s time to execute. Use this newfound alignment and knowledge to drive deliberate consideration of a prioritised portfolio rather than executing on strategic sourcing project at a time. After all, category management is MUCH more than simply executing sourcing projects.

  • Take a portfolio approach – Know your targets and have a plan to get there, get many projects teed up, and leverage available resources
  • Eliminate extraneous work – Get comfortable with not doing it all
  •  Press sourcing strategies for greater value (go to auction, demand management, standardisation, supplier innovation, etc.)
  • But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – you must start somewhere
  • Leverage all available resources to reach your objectives
  • Sustain the value by managing supplier relationships and performance

The best way to deliver results is to have a sense of urgency with a bias toward execution.

To learn more about how to a successful category manager and enable a true category management plan, register for our upcoming webinar.

Our webinar, Breaking the Groundhog Day Mentality: Enabling a TRUE Category Management Mind, takes place at 1pm GMT / 8 am EST on 29th November 2017. Register your attendance for FREE here.

Upgrade: Be Tomorrow’s CPO, Today

Five days. Five influential CPOs. Are you ready to upgrade your career  at Career Boot Camp 2017?

Sign up to Procurious to access Career Boot Camp from 4th September. 

Do you dream of becoming the CPO of a top organisation somewhere in the distant future?

Are you putting in the hours today to make sure you’re prepared for tomorrow?

Procurement leaders of the future will need to be agile, focused and equipped to deal with all of the changes coming our way with the developments in cognitive technology and Workplace 4.0.

That’s where Career Boot Camp comes in. Our podcast series will help you to transform your career and your future. But only if you’re ready and willing to upgrade!

Five days. Five CPOs. Five fifteen-minute procurement podcasts – tomorrow can’t wait!

What Is Career Boot Camp? 

The Procurious Career Boot Camp, sponsored by Michael Page Procurement and Supply Chain, is a global professional development event for procurement and supply chain professionals. This series, featuring five, fifteen-minute podcasts, will be hosted right here on Procurious and has been designed to help the most ambitious professionals amongst you to upgrade your skill-set.

It’s an opportunity to hear from the brightest and the best in the industry in a format that is FREE and easily accessible; on the go or in the workplace, providing answers to the most common procurement questions you’re desperate to have answered!

20,000 procurement pros took part in Career Boot Camp in 2016. This year will be bigger and better!

Who’s involved in this year’s Career Boot Camp?

Explaining how to crank it up one notch at a time, why you need to lock up your data scientists and the art of failing forward, our career coaches in 2017 include:

  • Ramsay Chu, CPO Rio Tinto
  • Ninian Wilson, Global Supply Chain Director & CEO Vodafone Procurement
  • Fabienne Lesbros, CPO The Co-operative Group
  • Dapo Ajayi, CPO AstraZeneca
  • Matthew Friend, Associate Director, Michael Page Procurement and Supply Chain
  • Al Williams, Managing Director and CPO Barclays

How does it work?

The series will run for one working week with a daily podcast released on Procurious from 4th September.  You can access each new podcast, featuring tips, insights and guidance from the best in the business, via our eLearning area.

Each of our five CPOs will dedicate their week to coaching you on becoming the best procurement leader you can be! Matthew Friend, Associate Director, Michael Page Procurement and Supply Chain, will be providing his top takeaways at the end of each podcast.

Each daily podcast will also be accompanied by a blog article from our speakers and there will be vibrant group debates aplenty via our dicussions board.

How do I access Career Boot Camp?

If you’re already a member of Procurious sit tight until the 4th September. The podcasts will be  published in our eLearning area throughout this week.

Not yet a member of Procurious? All you need to do is register (it’s FREE!) here and you’re good to go!

You needn’t worry about the event slipping your mind either. We’ll be sending all of our members an email reminder the week before.

And, to make things even easier, we’ll be sure to deliver each podcast straight to your doorstep (straight to your email inbox!) as they become available so you won’t miss out on a thing!

When is it?

Starting on the 4th September, Career Boot Camp will run for five days. The podcasts will be accompanied by daily blogs from our speakers. When the series is complete, all five podcasts will still be available via the Procurious learning area, FREE of charge.

Is it really free?

Yes! Sign up to become a member of Procurious, and you’ll gain access to all of the Career Boot Camp podcast content, as well as all of the other resources on Procurious including featured classes, e-learning videos, thousands of procurement news articles, a curated news feed and a global events calendar.

Are the podcasts available to everyone?

Anyone and everyone is welcome to partake in Career Boot Camp and it’s totally, 100 per cent free to do so- simply sign up to Procurious.

Why should I do Career Boot Camp every day?

More and more procurement professionals are opting to develop their key skills and gain knowledge through eLearning and other online channels. In a fast-paced, technology driven world, innovation, agility and forward planning are essential if procurement professionals are to succeed and be future leaders.

Dedicating fifteen minutes a day to developing and progressing your procurement career can make the difference between standing still, or moving quickly into more impactful roles. Hearing from the best in the business will give you a valuable head start on what’s required of tomorrow’s CPO. At Procurious, we firmly believe that daily procurement learning is essential for career advancement. And 2017’s Career Boot Camp will help you get into the habit!

Sign up to Procurious to access Career Boot Camp from 4th September. 

If you’re already a member you’ll be able to access the podcasts in our learning area from the 4th September 2017. 

Are You Emotionally Intelligent? Here’s How to Tell

What exactly is emotional intelligence (EQ)? How can you determine if you have those characteristics? And why is it so important?

You’ve probably heard the term “emotional intelligence.” It’s come into vogue in recent years, with numerous books being written about the subject. Businesses are increasingly focusing on emotional intelligence and researchers are increasingly learning its importance.

What is emotional intelligence?

The term “emotional intelligence” (EI or EQ) was coined by researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer. Author Dan Goleman made the term mainstream in his book “Emotional Intelligence.”

Typically, EQ includes two related, but distinct items:

  • The ability to recognise, understand and manage your own emotions
  • The ability to recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others

 

The 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is characterised by 5 distinct characteristics:

1. Self awareness

Those with high EQ are able to recognize emotions in the moment. One of the keys to developing EQ is being aware of feelings, evaluating those feelings and then managing them.

2. Self regulation

Everyone knows that emotions come quickly and with force. It’s rare that you have control over when we are hit by an emotional wave. Even the slightest thing can trigger something deep within you. However, if you have a high EQ, you can control how long that negative experience lasts.

3. Motivation

It’s very difficult to be motivated if you always have a negative attitude. Those who are full of negativity don’t often achieve their goals. Those with a high EQ are able to move toward a consistently positive attitude by thinking more positively and being aware of negative thoughts.

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to recognise how others are feeling. This is essential for functioning well in society and excelling in your career. A person without empathy will end up regularly insulting and offending people, while a person with a high EQ will be able to understand what a person is feeling and then treat them accordingly.

5. Social skills

The final characteristic of EQ is having and developing excellent interpersonal skills. It used to be that access to the greatest amount of information would allow you to succeed, but now that everyone has immediate access to knowledge, people skills are more important than ever. Those with a high EQ are able to wisely and skillfully navigate the various relationships that fill their lives.

How can you tell if you have high EQ?

There are various tests that can help you identify your emotional intelligence, such as the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 test. However, these tests have their limitations in that EQ is intangible, making it difficult to precisely measure.

There are a number of markers that accompany those with a high emotional intelligence.

Some of those markers are:

A curiousity about people

Curiosity comes from empathy, which is one of the most significant elements of EQ. If you are curious about people, you will also care about what they feel and how they struggle.

On the flip side, those with a low EQ don’t have any interest in others. They aren’t interested in what others think or feel. Their primary focus is on themselves.

A thorough emotional vocabulary

Remember, EQ is the ability to identify and understand emotions. Research done by Travis Bradberry, who is the author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” suggests that only about 36 per cent of people have this ability.

This is partially due to an inadequate emotional vocabulary that prevents people from properly identifying what they’re feeling. Every negative feeling is simply called, “Bad,” and every positive feeling is, “Good.”

However, those with high EQ can specifically name their emotions, which then allows them to deal with them in the most effective way.

A holistic understanding of themselves

If you have high emotional intelligence, you have a holistic understanding of yourself that goes beyond just feelings. You know what you’re good at and what you’re not. You know the people and situations that frustrate you. You also understand how to avoid or effectively navigate situations that will hurt you emotionally.

If you have a high EQ, you can tap into your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

Not easily offended

Emotional intelligence involves a thorough knowledge of yourself and the ability to control your emotions. Combined, this makes you difficult to offend. You are confident in who you are and are able to understand when someone is simply making a joke versus when they are degrading you. You don’t let people easily get under your skin.

An ability to judge character

EQ gives you the ability to read and understand people. You are in tune with their emotions, which then allows you to more readily understand their actions. You can tell the difference between someone having a bad day and someone who is a bad apple. The more you develop your EQ, the more skilled you become at making character assessments about people.

Not haunted by the past

A low EQ makes it difficult to manage emotions when they appear unexpectedly. When a past mistake comes to mind, it’s easy to get dragged down into discouragement and despair.

If you have a high EQ, you are able to think about past mistakes without letting the associated emotions overwhelm you.

Giving without expecting

Those with a high EQ are able to give without expecting anything back. Because you are constantly in tune with the emotions of others, you know the effect that a gift will have on someone. When someone needs something, you want to meet that need.

This giving attitude allows emotionally strong people to build deep relationships with other people.

An ability to handle toxic people

Toxic, difficult people will often draw a reaction out of you. You feel surges of negative emotions when you are around them and often lash out, which then hurts both you and them. Lashing out also fuels their toxic behavior even more.

If you have a high EQ, however, you can keep your emotions in check when dealing with a difficult person. You don’t allow your anger to boil over. You’re able to see multiple perspectives, calmly.

As Daniel Goleman said:

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

Janae Ernst (M.S. ’17) serves as the marketing communications coordinator for Cornerstone University’s Professional & Graduate Studies. This article was orginally published on the Cornerstone University blog.

Are You Considering Chasing A Procurement Career…?

…according to most of the ThomasNet and ISM 30 Under 30 Rising Stars, going after a  procurement career is a cracking idea!

Last month, THOMASNET and ISM announced the 2016-2017 winners of the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars award, presenting the profession with an inspirational batch of role models who are sure to attract more Millennials to the supply management profession.

Procurious has been lucky enough to sit down with many of the winners to find out what the award means to them,  how they got into procurement in the first place and the key skills needed for a procurement and supply chain career.

We were interested to find out what advice the winners had for any students contemplating a career in supply management. Answers varied wildly, covering everything from “make sure you have fun” to “ask loads of questions” and  “do the things that scare you the most!”

There was one recurrent theme, however:  The 30 Under 30 Stars are all adamant that a career in procurement and supply chain is the way to go!

Opportunities Aplenty Await You In Your Procurement Career

Jon Futryk, Senior Sourcing Specialist Crown Equipment Corporation, advises young professionals to “get involved with a supply-chain organisation in order to gain exposure to the industry”.

Andrew Bagni, Procurement Manager at General Dynamics Mission Systems, concedes, asserting “it’s a great career path for anyone, because there are so many opportunities for growth. In the US, manufacturing companies are bringing their facilities back home, a move that needs to be supplemented with a strong supply-chain team.  This is a great opportunity for young people to be involved”.

Dan Kaskinen, Strategic Sourcing Manager, Sonic Automotive, Inc., is another strong advocate for the profession: “My advice to any young person getting ready to join the workforce is that supply-management could be a great fit – I would fully recommend it.”

Benefiting From Diverse Experiences

Several of the 30 Under 30 winners make mention of the varied experiences on offer within a supply management career and advise any young professionals to make the most of these opportunities.

Barbara Noseda, Global Sourcing Associate at Johnson & Johnson explains why this is a brilliant way to diversify your skills: “At JNJ people transition between finance, operations, marketing and supply-chain. Movement between functions helps you build your knowledge and helps you to better understand your counterparts.”

Andrew Bagni agrees, explaining that “working in supply-chain offers a plethora of  opportunities. Over a lifetime of work you’ll switch between a variety of positions. Supply chain gives you the flexibility to learn about a lot of different things, very quickly, which builds a great foundation. There are so many different projects to work on and it’s possible, particularly for millennials, to move up the ladder but also to move laterally to widen your learning prospects.”

Nurturing Your Procurement Relationships

Of course, this wouldn’t be a piece about procurement careers without mentioning relationship management. In our previous article we revealed that the majority of the 30 under 30 stars hailed communication as the most important procurement skill. Now, they’re keen to remind aspiring procurement pros to make the most of their workplace relationships, whether it’s networking, managing supplier relations,  finding a mentor or doing the mentoring.

Barbara is particularly passionate about mentoring programs. “I’ve had multiple mentors. One was assigned to me at Johnson & Johnson and I was very lucky because we clicked; it just doesn’t make sense to have a mentor relationship if you don’t. I would strongly advise young professionals to find a mentor that they share the same values with. It’s always great to get an external opinion from an experienced person who went through the same thing 20 years ago”.

Barbara is now a mentee and a mentor for younger employees. “It’s great to be on the other side – I’ve also learned a lot, and got a lot, out of being a mentor.”

Jeff Novak places huge value on networking and the chance benefits it can bring: “Having the ability to meet people is so important because you never know when it’ll be someone who can help you and make a real impact. I completed an internship a while ago, and  one of my recruiters is now on an ISM regional board. I’ve been able to connect with him.”

Matthew Montana, Category Lead at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, warns young professionals to not get too caught up with technology or big data. “Don’t forget your suppliers are real people too! It’s important to develop relationships that are transparent and honest. This is the key to a successful partnership.”

More top tips for budding supply management stars

  • Develop your Cultural Intelligence (CQ)
  • Work hard and keep learning/ gaining new qualifications
  • Ask lots of questions
  • Be curious
  • Be resourceful
  • Have the patience to accept you don’t know everything, yet!

The 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars will meet for the first time as a group at ISM2017, where ISM and THOMASNET.com will roll out the red carpet to celebrate the winners’ achievements and broadcast their success stories to other young people considering a career in supply management. 

Executive Recruiter: 4 Must-Have Attributes For Aspiring CPOs

Procurious caught up with Naseem Malik, Managing Partner at the Chicago-based supply management executive search firm MRA Global Sourcing, to find out what attributes recruiters are looking for in the next generation of top CPOs.

Naseem Malik has gone from sourcing goods to sourcing talent. After gaining 15 years’ experience as a procurement practitioner, Naseem turned his full attention to something he enjoys most – leveraging his network, connecting the dots and finding the best talent in the profession. Naseem is also a member of the ISM2017 Conference Leadership Committee, and has some excellent tips for getting the most out of ISM’s biggest event of the year. But first, Procurious asked Naseem for his views on what makes a candidate ideal for a CPO-level role.

Naseem, as a specialist in supply management executive search, what are the top attributes you look for in aspiring CPOs?

Based on the trends we’re seeing and what our clients have typically asked for, there are four stand-out attributes that we look for in a CPO-level candidate.

First, and foremost, they need to have a broad perspective. Companies are asking specifically for candidates from different industries to their own, as this brings about fresh, disruptive and innovate thinking.

Secondly, the candidate should be someone who can earn themselves a seat at the table with the CFO and CEO. They can do this by talking confidently about what they can bring to the business in terms of supply and market intelligence, data analytics, and leverage their own broad perspective. They should focus on the things that matter most to the C-Level – risk, compliance, and technological trends.

Operational know-how is also important, particularly change-management skills. Does the candidate have the emotional intelligence (EQ) to truly collaborate? Are they able to engage, influence, persuade and lead people in a global environment, including those that don’t report to them?

I’d like to add a fourth attribute here that ties the other three together, and that’s humility. Yes, you need to be able to talk confidently about your accomplishments, but this has to be balanced with humility and an awareness of your place in the corporate pecking-order. Humility will lead to credibility, which will pay off down the road.

 You mentioned that you got into executive search because of your love of networking. Can you share any tips for effective networking?

Everyone now needs to have a social presence, and continually build upon that presence online. However, without some sort of face-to-face follow-up, your online connections can be specious. To truly leverage the power of your online network, you need to meet people face-to-face at conferences, make phone calls and gather referrals. Face-to-face networking will help you grow you online network, and vice-versa.

Another piece of advice is to embrace the concept of “pay it forward”. Always see if there’s something you can do to help people in your network – for example, see if there’s someone who you can connect them with to help solve a challenge they may be facing. Again, it will pay off in the long-term.

What are you most excited about seeing at ISM2017?

Besides attending Procurious’ “Network Your Way To The Top” session, you mean?

As a member of the Conference Leadership Committee, I’m really excited about ISM2017 because every year we’re seeing the conference gaining incrementally in attraction. There are more people attending than ever, and I don’t think that’s only due to the prospect of meeting Mickey Mouse at Disney World – it’s about the quality of the speakers, the excellent content and the companies attending (Apple, Google, Salesforce and others). The keynotes, including David Cameron and Colin Powell, are also fantastic. Personally, I’ve been involved in helping ISM find good speakers, great topics and promoting the event.

What are your top 3 tips for getting the most out of a procurement conference?

Network – take every opportunity you can to build your network at the event. After the event, follow up with all the people you’ve met, and also be sure to connect with the speakers or presenters you were most impressed by. Consider writing a blog article to share your thoughts and to keep the momentum going.

Have a plan before you go to the conference. There are a lot of learning tracks, lots of great presentations, but there’s only a finite number of sessions you can attend. It pays to have an attack plan before you go. You can target a specific learning track, or mix and match.

ISM’s Learning Tracks are designed to help guide delegates through the maze of options available. As a committee member, I have joint responsibility for the “Outside” track. Outside sessions are all about learning new and effective ways of improving your skills and establishing your relevance, including career-building, building your professional presence, honing your networking skills and building high-value relationships.

There’s still time to register for ISM2017, taking place in Orlando, Florida from May 21-24.

Planning to attend ISM2017? Don’t miss out on Procurious Founder and CEO Tania Seary’s top tips on how to Network Your Way To The Top on Tuesday May 23rd, 3.45pm.

One Skill To Rule Them All

Want to know what it takes to really make it in the procurement world? Cognitive tech expertise? A firm background in supply management? Nope – 72% of the ISM and ThomasNet 30 Under 30 Stars agree there’s another, essential ingredient to success…

Last month, THOMASNET and ISM announced the 2016-2017 winners of the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars award, presenting the profession with an inspirational batch of role models who are sure to attract more Millennials to the supply management profession.

Procurious has been lucky enough to sit down with many of the winners to find out what the award means to them, what it takes to be a 30 Under 30 Rising Star and how they embarked on a career in supply management in the first place. We’ll be revealing all of our findings throughout this series of articles but first up, what key skills are the winners acing?

You can forget prioritising the development of your tech skills. It turns out that communication is absolutely the crowning glory of all procurement skills.

Communication is king

72 per cent of 30 Under 30 winners named communication as one of the top three skills that have been essential for their success, which is unsurprising given the nature of most procurement and supply roles. Nick Imison, Subcontract Administrator at Northrop Grumman Systems Corp,  reminded us, “You often have an extremely short period of time to capture someone’s attention, explain why you need to go down a given path and  effectively relay what it is you’re trying to accomplish.”

Corey Gutafson, Senior Buyer at Deluxe Corporation, explained that he had to hone his communication skills very quickly at the start of his career. “If I’d had to do a five-minute presentation when I was in high school, I might have passed out from nervousness.  But communication in supply management is HUGE! Whether it’s via email, on the phone, presenting online or in person, we’re always talking with many different stakeholders and suppliers. If you’re not a good communicator, you’re going to have a difficult time.”

Barbara Noseda knows a thing or two about communicating under different circumstances. As a Global Sourcing Associate at Johnson & Johnson, she is very much in a global role which might mean she begins the day focusing on Europe and ends it with Africa. As such, she sees enormous value in being conscious of global differences and managing these, as well as being able to communicate effectively internally. “I’m a big fan of CQ (Cultural Intelligence) and I think it should be given much more importance. But internal communication is also important. As a sourcing associate, I often find myself talking with CEOs, having  to explain what I want and packaging it in a way that means they see the benefits.”

Know your data

“It might be cliché but in today’s world you have more data at your fingertips than ever, which means data analysis skills are crucial” says Matthew Montana, Category Lead at Pacific Gas and Electric Company. “It’s important to be able to manipulate data and use it to your advantage.” Indeed, 45 per cent of the 30 Under 30 Stars rated data analytics as one of the top three skills for procurement professionals.

Imison describes data analysis as the “ability to look at a given situation and provide some sort of useful evaluation, such as selecting the best path to go down from a financial perspective.”

But being great at data analytics isn’t just about … well,  being great at data analytics.  Gustafson has found his data skills have worked wonders for his relationships with senior team members. “It’s helped me develop some strong relationships with some of my older colleagues. I help them with analysing data and they can  help me with things like contract terms or negotiation tactics. If you don’t have tech savviness, it can take four or five hours to do a 20 minute job due to lack of efficiency.”

You can’t go wrong with a generous helping of these key skills either…

Some of the other key skills highlighted by the 30 Under 30 winners include:

  • Team work
  • Adaptability
  • Dependability
  • Perseverance
  • Flexibility
  • Empathy
  • Time management

It’s interesting to see that the majority of skills highlighted are “soft skills” (although we hate calling them that!)

Abhishek Dahiya, Chief of Staff for Global Materials Dell Technologies,  thinks it’s important to stay up to date with the latest developments in the industry. “An openness to learning things that are out of the scope of your job makes you perfect for that job!”

And, of course you can’t go wrong with a persistent attitude, even if it’s in the form of some good old-fashioned relentless pestering as Amanda DeCook, Sourcing Associate A.T. Kearney, points out. “Sometimes you have to have the confidence to just go for it; pick up the phone and cold call a supplier. It can be scary but the worst-case scenario is that they won’t answer. And if they don’t, embrace that can-do attitude and keep calling (whether it’s three or four times) until they do!”

The 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars will meet for the first time as a group at ISM2017, where ISM and THOMASNET.com will roll out the red carpet to celebrate the winners’ achievements and broadcast their success stories to other young people considering a career in supply management. 

Best Of The Blog: Can We Agree To Stop Calling Them Soft Skills?

How did soft skills come to be known as this? And does calling them this underplay their importance in the modern procurement world?

Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an article by Hugo Britt  in which he explains why soft skills are anything but!

The English language is full of misnomers. Just ask the killer whale (actually a dolphin), or the horny toad (actually a lizard). Once a word or phrase has entered common usage, it’s near-impossible to change it, even if the population generally understands that the term is misleading.

Which brings me to “soft skills”. I work for an organisation that provides training for procurement and supply chain professionals. As such this is one of the terms that I hear bandied about many times a week.

My argument is that defining this skill-set as “soft” actually devalues an essential part of every procurement professional’s toolkit.

To quickly summarise, soft skills are those used in dealing with other people. These include skills such as communication abilities, language skills, influencing skills, emotional empathy, and leadership traits. In contrast, “hard” skills – such as tendering or IT competencies – are readily measurable and (importantly) easier to train.

How Did They Come to be Called Soft Skills?

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been able to pinpoint the first usage of this term.

The concept has been applied to business environments since at least 1936, when Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People was published. Carnegie’s work, which has sold a phenomenal 30 million copies to date, is essentially the definitive guide to soft skills. However, it stops short of actually using these words.

Recently, there seems to have been an explosion of articles and training courses focusing on soft skills, particularly in procurement. My theory is that procurement – having moved from back-office to business-partnership status only a decade or so ago – is, in effect, late to the soft skills party, and is currently playing catch-up.

It’s possible that the term “soft skills” simply came about as an antonym to hard skills. Perhaps it reflects the “softly-softly” approach, where managers choose to influence, rather than confront, and to make suggestions, rather than issuing orders. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s a misleading term due to the other connotations of “soft”.

These Skills are Anything But Soft

To my ear, “soft” means easy, pliable, or yielding readily to pressure. Yet a procurement professional with excellent communication abilities, who is adept at reading people, will be a “harder” opponent in negotiations, than a colleague lacking these skills.

Similarly, the connotation with “ease” is deceptive when it comes to trying to train for skills like change management or leadership. And quantifying the results of that training is more difficult still. Hence we’re hearing more and more that employers are hiring people based on their attributes (cultural fit, communication skills, willingness to change), recognising that hard skills can be easily picked up later on.

This has changed the approach recruiters are taking in job interviews. There is now less emphasis on hard skills, and more behavioural questions about how you would react in certain situations.

It’s worth considering whether, in the future, soft skills will become so vital, they’ll become a requirement for procurement roles. That situation already exists in some professions. Look at Medicine, where aspiring doctors are interviewed for qualities including maturity, communication, the ability to empathise and collaborate. Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, with his acerbic bed-side manner, would in reality never have gained entry into medical school, no matter how brilliant he was.

There’s a school of thought that when it comes to soft skills, you’ve either got it, or you don’t. Soft-skills training, therefore, is ineffective because you can’t change someone’s personality. Personally, I disagree because I’ve witnessed colleagues who have worked hard to develop skills like effective listening. There’ll always be hard cases, but the days of people dismissing these skills as “fluffy” or otherwise useless are over.

Three Alternative Names for Soft Skills

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, it’s nigh-impossible to change a term once it’s in common usage. However, if professional organisations, training providers, and the like, were to phase out the words “soft skills”, and call them something more accurate instead, we might see this phrase begin to disappear.

Here are three suggestions for a more accurate description of “soft” skills.

1. Essential skills: I’ve borrowed this one from ISM CEO Tom Derry, who also isn’t a fan of the term “soft skills”. Tom used the term “essential skills” when launching ISM’s Mastery Model to describe the many interpersonal attributes required on the journey to achieving accreditation.

2. EQ: “Emotional intelligence quotient” is the technical term for soft skills. I like this term simply because it contains the word “emotional”, which pretty much sums up what soft skills entail. Calling it a “quotient”, however, raises the argument that EQ, like IQ, is something you’re born with, and can’t be improved upon.

3. People skills: The simplest, and possibly the most accurate, alternative for soft skills is “people skills”. After all, every one of these skills involves dealing with people, while hard skills can generally be put to use sitting alone at your computer.

If you have other suggestions, or already use a different terminology in your workplace, please add a comment below!